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Furtling Through Space

By Willa Shakespeare
Page 2 of 4

"Zen." Avon had obtained the late watch for himself, and by himself. It wasn't difficult; a brief show of temper and the others were more than willing to let him sulk in peace. Sulking wasn't what he had in mind, though. "Zen, you learned our language from Jenna, but I have noticed that you also understand words that Jenna doesn't know. Even the most technical jargon. Do you know the meaning of all that we say?"

+Confirmed.+ As usual Zen sounded bored, but it didn't put a damper on Avon's unwonted good mood.

"Even Vila's sub-standard solecisms and grammatical absurdities?"

+Confirmed.+

"Oh, good." Avon grinned. "In that case, I have a small test for you, Zen. What is furtling?"

Zen's information enabled Avon to develop a tentative hypothesis. The confirmation would have to come from Vila. Avon mulled the problem over during the long, dull hours of his watch. It was a delicate exercise in interpersonal relationships, an area far from Avon's strong point. He'd made gaffes aplenty when dealing with his own social stratum. On this ship of outcasts, he was entirely without guide. //I dislike inefficiency, but empiric reasoning will have to suffice. Blake would have no difficulty finding a solution,// Avon thought resentfully. //But then, even Gan appears to understand people better than I do. There is the possibility that I am entirely wrong. Which, under the circumstances, would be highly embarrassing, possibly enough to make leaving Liberator my only option. Unless I am very careful.//

Avon delivered the spare recital of the watch crisply with barely a pause for Blake's acknowledgement, then strode rapidly from the flight deck.

Blake assessed the gleam in Avon's eye as rare good spirits. // He's plotting some mischief, no doubt.// Blake was relieved that Avon's dilemma, whatever it had been, had resolved itself. When Avon was behaving normally he was hard enough to deal with. Avon's introverted withdrawal had worried the big rebel. Now, of course, he could worry about Avon's planned amusement. //He has a wicked sense of humor. You can see that in the way he verbally spars with Vila. Lucky thing that he does, actually. The thief diverts some of Avon's spite from me. Otherwise, I do believe Avon would have goaded me into wiping the smug grin off his face weeks ago. And that would be a disaster. If I damaged his pride publicly, I'd likely lose him. He's far too valuable to the Cause to be wasted that way. And, admit it, Roj, you rather like him. The times when I'm not holding myself back from wringing his neck, that is.// Blake dismissed his wandering thoughts about the refractory Avon and asked for a systems' update from Zen.

Avon paused, irresolute, on the verge of his goal. //Come now,// he chided himself, //delaying won't improve the situation. The only way to find out if you're right is to conduct the experiment.// He walked into the Rest Room with a studied casual manner, concealing his tension with iron control. "Ah, there you are, Vila," he said, pretending that he just happened upon the Delta, ignoring the fact that he'd asked Zen to locate the thief for him. It wasn't surprising that the thief chose to relax in the Rest Room rather than his own cabin. Vila was a gregarious soul and wouldn't have enjoyed his lie-down and drink as much if there wasn't even the possibility of a visitor. //Unlike me,// Avon reflected. // I do not care for crowds.//

Vila was wary. "Won't do you no good, Avon. It's my off-duty time. I'm not doing any fetchin' an' carryin' for you." He glanced at Avon and was disconcerted by the grin the dark-haired tech bestowed on him. His voice wavered. "I'm not your personal slave, you know."

"Vila, it's my off-watch, too," Avon reassured him. "I came in to persuade the beverage dispenser to provide something more palatable than that blue cleaning fluid you're imbibing." He went to the synthesizer and accessed the programming. Avon smiled to himself when he sensed the warmth of Vila's presence behind him as the ever curious thief sidled up to watch Avon work.

"This blue stuff has quite a kick," Vila defended his choice relaxant.

"True, but I prefer to taste my liquor, not have it burn its way down my gullet independently of peristalsis." Reprogramming completed, (actually, Avon had done that earlier, all this fiddling was merely part of the show) Avon activated the machine. He offered one of the resulting small glasses of amber-brown liquid to Vila.

"Smells all right," Vila said cautiously. He sipped at it, then grinned at Avon. "That is good," he declared. "Want to chuck the revolution business and open a bar? I'd be willin' to test market for you... all in the interest of scientific research, you understand."

"Oh, yes, I think I can safely say I understand." Avon settled into one of the lounge chairs scattered about the Rest Room and leaned his elbows on the table, his pose relaxed and affable.

Vila pulled up a chair near the Alpha, brightening at the prospect of a friendly chat. "You're a man of unexpected talents, Avon."

"True," Avon agreed. He eyed the suspicious lump in Vila's tunic and decided that the mysterious paper was still in residence. "A man needs a few hobbies to stave off boredom. Unless, of course, one is a galaxy - class avenging saint, like Roj Blake."

"Eh, well, that wouldn't include you or me."

"Not likely." Avon reached into his own tunic and extracted a rectangular sheet of paper. He placed it on the table, smoothing it flat. As Vila watched, Avon folded the paper, lining up the short edges, then meticulously creased the fold with his thumbnail.

"A long time ago, on a crowded, resource- poor island on Earth an art form was developed that required nothing more than paper and imagination. It was called Origami." Avon's fingers worked smoothly as he talked, folding the top corners down to meet in the center. "Occasionally, there were stories accompanying the folded figures. This one," he said, folding the bottom edge up to meet the line formed by the down-turned corners, then again to lock the corners in place, "concerned a sailor." He flipped the paper over and repeated the lower edge folding. "In the days when ships were powered by the wind caught in fragile cloth sails." He slipped his fingers into the folded triangle and deftly tugged it into a square.

Vila watched, fascinated by this unprecedented glimpse beneath Avon's armor. The Alpha with his scrap of paper and storytelling reminded Vila of his own childhood; the games and toys made of discards and dreams.

Avon folded the bottom corner up on one side, flipped the paper and repeated the process, creating a smaller triangle. He opened out the triangle, then gently grasped the top of the much-folded paper and pulled the folds out into a crude boat shape. "This is our bold sailor's ship, Vila," Avon informed him. "Unfortunately there was a storm. The bow was ripped away by the waves." Avon tore the left corner off the paper ship. "Followed by the stern." The right corner was removed. "The sailor tried to tie himself to the mast, which was wooden and would float, but the wind took his last chance away," with that remark, Avon snipped off the central triangle of paper. Then he undid all save the first fold. "And in the morning, all that was left of our unlucky mariner was his shirt, brought in on the tide." Avon held up the torn paper. The tattered thing did resemble a very small shirt.

Vila chuckled. "That's a good 'un. Know any more tricks like that, Avon?"

"Certainly. But then, I'm sure you could teach me a few 'tricks', Vila." Avon unfolded the last crease and held his right hand underneath the central hole in the paper. "Zen knew what the word meant, Vila, but he couldn't describe the technique. Could you show me the trick to furtling, Vila?"

Vila pushed away from the table, all amusement wiped from his face. "Should have known this was all a set-up. You bloody Alphas, always sneakin' around a person, can't ever just come out with it, no. Always have to make a game of everything, don't ya?"

Avon was taken aback by Vila's vehemence. "I don't see why you're so upset, Vila. Surely, it was an innocent enough request."

"You just can't stand to be left out, can't abide me havin' anything that's all me own," Vila growled. "This has been drivin' you mad, hasn't it, Avon?" The thief grabbed Avon's right hand and forced the tech's fingers into an odd position, index finger curled tight, resting on the thumb. "Hold still," he ordered. "You want to have your way all the time, don't you? Spoiled Alpha brat." He waved Avon's indignant splutter to silence. "Well, you're getting your way, so don't complain." Vila retrieved his hidden treasure from his tunic and arranged the paper to his satisfaction over Avon's hand.

"Well?" Vila inquired after a long moment. "Aren't you gonna try to bash me loaf in?"

"Why would I even consider doing such a thing, Vila?" Avon cocked his head and looked down at the paper, feeling a sly grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. //I was right.//

"Because, you bloody stuck-up bastard, 'cause of me 'taking unwanted liberties', is why, because of that!" He pointed to the paper. "I remember what you told that lot on the London ."

Avon laughed. His left hand hovered over the paper shrouded right, then descended to stroke the exposed flesh through the hole. "Oh, that was entirely different, Vila. Like you, I have no taste for slavery. But I'm far from adverse to playing games on a basis of equality and mutual enjoyment."


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